ARTS & SOCIETIES
 

LETTER OF SEMINAR 4

Centre d’Histoire de Sciences Po

 
 
 

THE MODEL CHILD



Emmanuel Pernoud
From Children's Art to Puerile Art

The Childhood of Art : Myth and Demystification

Camille Saint-Jacques
Remarks of a Painter on Children's Drawing


Editorial Director: Laurence Bertrand Dorléac
Editorial Assistant: Elodie Antoine
Translator: David Ames Curtis

PREVIOUS LETTER

THE INFLUENCE OF THE SAINT-SIMONIANS AND THE IDEA OF ART IN THE VANGUARD OF THE SOCIAL REFORM

BODY MORALITY

DANDIES




 
EDITORIAL



        Children have always had their role to play in society. They have always had their place in the mind of adults who have projected onto them their own fantasies and world views. Childhood has not always been, for all that, an object of historical inquiry. Even though people have expressed an interest in children since Antiquity through treatises on morality, medicine, and pedagogy, childhood truly became a special topic of investigation only after 1960 with the publication of Philippe Ariès pioneering volume, Centuries of Childhood (in French : L’Enfant et la vie familiale sous l’Ancien Régime). Although now subject to challenge on several points, this book remains a landmark. Even though one tends to relativize the importance of the eighteenth century in changing people’s mentalities—the Middle Ages also had their part to play in the invention of childhood—the family changed appreciably with the coming of the Age of Enlightenment : education became more attentive, and better adapted, to the child’s unique personality—as is testified to by the success of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s L'Émile in 1762.
        The decline in mortality rates and progress in both medicine and childcare at the end of the nineteenth century were going to give rise to new hopes. The young person who had formerly been viewed above all as a voracious and dangerous miniature adult would then be seen in a new light. Educational institutions followed suit, and it is in this context, too, that the unprecedented notion of children’s art came to the fore in the twentieth century: liberal schools employed it in their quest to free the child (Freinet, Montessori, Decroly). This was also the moment when artists in search of the childhood of art discovered the power of children’s drawing, alongside the drawings of “madmen” and “primitives”; indeed, it was the time when one put into practice Baudelaire’s statement, “Genius is but childhood rediscovered at will.” The various avant-garde movements were going to make sweeping use of it in their struggle against conventions, materialism, and learned culture. Their neoprimitivism approached the taste for purity normally associated with monks. The child became a key tool, and his spontaneous art was going to be copied, commented upon, and exhibited. The psychologist would take care of the rest, studying, classifying, indexing, and establishing some order where others were above all enamored of chaos and pure instinct. The teacher oscillated between these two assessments, training children while also encouraging their free expression, caught as he was between the model advocated by modern artists and the one developed by the psychologists.
        Before showing an interest in representations of childhood, Emmanuel Pernoud published a pioneering book on the subject itself, writing on “the invention of children’s drawing (L’Invention du dessin d’enfant [Hazan, 2003]). Camille Saint-Jacques responds to him as a mindful artist who sees in adults’ reproduction of children’s drawing the rejection of culture, therefore of an unprecedented but indispensable difficulty. The debate remains up in the air, for this is to go against the reaction of numerous contemporary artists who are responding to the myth of the childhood of art spread since the Romantic Era by caricaturing their own role as backward children. All the better to rid oneself of it in a society that has become infantile and infantilizing, says Pernoud, seeing a spiritual father in Alfred Jarry, the genius doodler who, with all his might, rejected model children.

Laurence Bertrand Dorléac




Letter published with the support of the Foundation of France

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